Workers stand in line to vote for the union election at Amazon’s JFK8 distribution center, in the Staten Island neighborhood of New York, USA, on March 25, 2022.
Brendan Mcdermid Reuters
Amazon lays off two employees linked to organizational campaign that resulted in the company’s first union warehouse in the US
Mat Cusick and Tristan Dutchin told CNBC that Amazon had fired them in recent days. Both Cusick and Dutchin collaborated with the Amazon Labor Union, a group led by current and former employees of the company, to organize workers in the e-commerce giant’s warehouses on Staten Island, New York.
The ALU recorded a historic victory last month, when workers at New York’s largest warehouse in New York, known as JFK8, voted to join the union. The ALU had hoped to repeat its success at a smaller facility nearby, called LDJ5, but the site rejected unionization last week. Still, the victory at JFK8 spurred organizational efforts at other Amazon warehouses, and the ALU received high-profile recognition, most notably from President Joe Biden.
Dutchin, who has worked as a package collector at JFK8 for almost a year, said he was fired on Saturday after completing his shift. Amazon told him it had failed to meet the company’s productive goals, which require employees to pick hundreds of packages per hour.
Dutchin said that he received previous warnings from Amazon about his performance, but he has undergone additional training since then. Dutchin said his manager recently even congratulated him on his improved performance.
Cusick, who serves as ALU’s communications director, said he was fired last week after going on “leave to care for Covid,” which allows employees to care for family members with Covid-19.
A woman holds a poster as Amazon and union workers attend a rally in front of the company building on April 24, 2022 in New York’s Staten Island neighborhood.
Kena Betancur AFP | Getty Images
An employee of Amazon’s human resources department allowed him to go on leave until April 29, Cusick said. But on April 30, he received an email from Amazon stating that he had been absent from work for three days, which was the reason for the dismissal, Cusick said.
The next day, Cusick, who was sorting packages for delivery at Amazon’s facility called DYY6, near JFK8, revealed that his access to Amazon’s internal employee portal was blocked.
“I called the ERC,” Cusick said, referring to the Employee Resource Center, “and said, ‘What’s going on, I seem to be fired.'”
“I think the first person may have said I wasn’t interrupted,” he said. “I went from China, to India, to several different teams in the US, and everyone had a different opinion about what was going on. “
On May 3, Cusick received a letter from Amazon informing him that he had been fired “for leaving work,” according to a copy of the letter reviewed by CNBC.
Amazon’s HR systems for employees have been the subject of testing in the past. Research by The New York Times and Bloomberg has identified problems with a highly automated system, struggling to keep pace with the company’s rapidly expanding workforce, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cusick described his dismissal as an “automatic termination.”
“Amazon’s systems are almost entirely digital,” Cusick said. “I was locked out of the system where all that material is stored. I’m locked out of the building so I can’t even go to the building where I work to talk to people inside.”
Vice had previously reported the shooting. It is unclear whether the layoffs were retaliation for workers ’organizational efforts, and Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘They pay attention to those things’
Amazon has previously laid off employees who were outspoken critics of the company’s work practices, including Chris Smalls, president of the ALU. Amazon was recently ordered to return the job to JFK8 employee Gerald Bryson after a judge ruled that the company “illegally” fired him two years ago for participating in a pandemic protest.
“I did interviews, went to rallies,” Dutchin said. “I’m part of the ALU and I’m coming to the headlines nationally, they’re paying attention to that.”
The union victory at JFK8 was a big win for the labor groups, which had been trying to organize Amazon’s facilities for several years. For the ALU, the challenges are not over, as it must now try to negotiate collective bargaining with Amazon, which has already tried to delay the deal by challenging the outcome of the election in court.
In addition to firing the organizer at JFK8, the company has also made changes in the top ranks of the site in recent days.
Amazon fired at least half a dozen senior executives at JFK8 last week, The New York Times reported. Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the layoffs were the result of weeks of assessments of “operations and leadership” in JFK8. But the laid-off managers saw the move as a response to the union’s recent victory, according to the Times.
While Amazon would be legally allowed to fire managers who are not part of the negotiating unit, the company could face further National Labor Committee struggle over firing union organizers, said Tom Kochan, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management.
“Obviously it is immoral and breaking the law to fire union organizers, but it could pay off for a company to do so because the penalties are so weak,” Kochan said. “It’s also very difficult to enforce the law to prove that a worker got fired because of union activity, instead of not showing up on time or doing a job effectively somehow.”
TO WATCH: Amazon Labor Union wins